Establish No-Stress Evaluations

Anchor performance reviews to your job description and your association’s strategic plan for a smoother annual process.

By Charles A. Kasky

Businesswoman in glasses at job interview

The recent Core Standard requirement that all AEs have an annual performance review generated a lot of discussion and change in my state of Maryland and around the country. I guided more than half of the 16 presidents of our local associations last year through AE performance reviews and helped them craft job descriptions and employment contracts. Four associations even used the process to replace the incumbent AE and hire a new one.

The typical REALTOR® association president serves a one-year term, is a full-time business person, and has no training in human resources, so it’s unfair to expect him or her to know how to conduct performance reviews. I fielded many very basic questions from presidents, such as who conducts the review, when it’s conducted, if there is a form, and how salary and bonus decisions figure into the process. There was a palpable sense of being overwhelmed, and I wanted to help.

I developed a set of resources, including NAR’s HR Toolkit for Association Leadership, and explained the process for conducting a performance review. Although associations vary in size and means, a few elements are universal—the main one being that the basis for an AE’s evaluation has to be his or her job description and the association’s strategic plan.

The job description details the AE’s responsibilities, and the strategic plan (required by the Core Standards) sets out the goals the AE is expected to guide the association toward. Ultimately, a review will evaluate how well the AE performed the functions specified in the job description and facilitated the realization of the goals established in the strategic plan.

I helped facilitate 12 of the 16 local association strategic plans, so I knew a clear plan wasn’t the problem. Unfortunately, at most associations, there was no job description or employment contract, and no history or established process for a review. Some associations had never conducted a review of the incumbent AE. They were starting from scratch.

The AE Job Description

For the boards hiring a new AE last year, it was a great time to develop a job description as an element of the search. I recommended that the leaders look at the AE job board  for good examples of AE job responsibilities along with the Guide Recruiting Association Executives. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but there were enough commonalities in the job descriptions to guide us.

Every job description should contain these elements: job title and summary, competencies (education, experience, etc.), key roles and responsibilities, performance expectations, and compensation and benefits. A good place to start is defining what every REALTOR® AE is responsible for, such as advocacy, governance, operations, strategic planning, financial and personnel management, and internal and external relations, and then build from there. Job descriptions should incorporate enough detail so the AE knows what the job is, but not so specific that as the job evolves, it is no longer accurate. Of course, we shouldn’t be afraid of updating any job description as needed.

When presidents were unclear about which duties were their responsibility—some asked about staff reviews—I’d refer them to the list of duties in NAR’s Association Model Assessment tool. Although there is no right answer about all duties, the degree to which the volunteers are involved in managing the association (if at all) must be communicated and understood by all parties.

Once the job description is agreed upon, the presidents can develop the evaluation instrument for the following years. (You’ll find good templates, forms, checklists, and tips in NAR’s Chief Staff Performance Evaluation toolkit at nar.realtor.) Of course, the current year’s evaluation was trickier without a job description as a guideline, so presidents needed to rely on the AEs to describe what they do. It came as a surprise to some presidents to learn all that the AE does and is responsible for.

The local board presidents took their responsibilities seriously and each one successfully completed the review. The review procedure, including who performs the review, when it is performed, and what it entails, was then established in association policy.

The AE Employment Agreement

The next step was the employment agreement, which I recommend for all AEs. The incumbents and the new AEs in my state all signed employment contracts, often using NAR’s Sample Employment Agreement as a guide. (It’s a good document, so kudos to the HR and legal staff for developing it.)

Also, I was ever mindful of the limits of my involvement and often my only advice was for the local board to consult with legal counsel. This must happen when it comes to employment contract matters.

Once the pieces are in place—strategic plan, job description, employment agreement, and evaluation tool—annual reviews can become routine, and getting incoming leaders involved while they are ascending the leadership ladder assists in establishing continuity.

You can’t take all the stress out of performance review time, but you can minimize it with an established process, good tools, and communication.

Charles A. Kasky, RCE, is CEO of Maryland REALTORS®. Contact him at 800-638-6425 or Chuck.Kasky@mdrealtor.org.

Why All AEs Should Have an Employment Contract

An AE employment contract acts as guidance and protection for the AE and the association. Regardless of association size, a contract is a smart move because it takes ambiguity out of the AE’s responsibilities to the association and can help create a more stable work environment because expectations are clear and agreed upon.

AEs in “at will” employment states often ask what difference a contract makes when they can be fired without cause at any time. Although a contract can’t secure your employment, it can detail a severance clause providing salary and benefits (including outplacement assistance) for a period of time if the board should ask you to resign for reasons other than “cause” (embezzlement, conviction of a felony, etc.). A severance agreement protects the association, too, since a fair deal reduces the likelihood of a messy lawsuit and public airing of issues. Read more about contracts at Negotiate Employment Agreement.

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